Jharkhand is on the edge after the resignation of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) chairperson Hemant Soren from the Chief Minister’s post late Wednesday (31 January) evening.
Though the JMM, which has been ruling the state since 2019 in alliance with the Congress, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and CPI (ML-Liberation), has nominated senior party leader Champai Soren as Hemant’s successor, Governor C P Radhakrishnan has not indicated if and when he will swear-in the new government.
Meanwhile, rumours of a serious rift within the JMM and defection by MLAs belonging to both the JMM and the Congress are doing the rounds, adding to the political tension and uncertainty prevailing in the state.
Hemant Soren, escorted by officers of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) who had been interrogating him since late Wednesday morning, went to the Raj Bhawan around 8.30 pm to submit his resignation.
ED officers had told Hemant Soren after a few hours of interrogation that he would be arrested. Hemant Soren requested them to allow him to submit his resignation to the Governor before that since he wanted to escape the ignominy of being taken into custody as an incumbent CM.
Hemant Soren was accompanied by Champai Soren, the transport minister in his cabinet, who had already been nominated as his successor by MLAs of the ruling alliance who had been camping at the CM’s residence since morning.
Most of the ruling alliance MLAs also went along with Hemant Soren to the Raj Bhawan in mini buses. Their intention was to stage a show of support for Champai Soren before the Governor.
But the Governor refused to meet them and turned them away citing lack of prior appointment. Hemant Soren, while submitting his resignation, requested Governor Radhakrishnan to administer the oath of office to Champai Soren at the earliest.
The Governor is said to have merely nodded and did not provide any answer. And that has triggered a lot of speculation.
That’s because rifts have surfaced within the JMM, including Hemant Soren’s family, and there are rumours of some Congress MLAs also contemplating a switch to the BJP.
Battle Of Bahus Within JMM
The earlier plan was to install Hemant Soren’s wife Kalpana as his successor. That is why Hemant Soren got his party MLA Sarfaraz Ahmed to resign from his Gandey Assembly seat on 31 December last year.
Hemant Soren, according to JMM insiders, knew that his arrest by the ED over his involvement in the land scam was imminent. He wanted his wife Kalpana, who is not an MLA, to replace him (read this).
The plan was to get Kalpana nominated (by the JMM) as her husband’s replacement, get her sworn-in as CM after Hemant’s arrest, and then field her from Gandey (a safe seat for the JMM) in order to make her an MLA.
According to rules, a person who is not a member of a legislative assembly can be sworn in as a minister or chief minister, but will have to get elected within six months of being sworn-in.
But Hemant’s plans went awry when his sister-in-law Sita Soren, widow of his elder brother Durga Soren, objected to the move.
Sita Soren, a three-time MLA, has often criticised the functioning of the Hemant Soren government and accused it of “looting” the mineral-rich state. But she commands the respect of the old guard in the JMM.
Sita also enjoys the support of Hemant’s younger brother Basant, and at least five other JMM MLAs. The JMM has 30 MLAs, while the Congress has 16, and the RJD, NCP and CPI(ML-Liberation) one each.
A meeting held at Hemant Soren’s residence on Tuesday (30 January) turned out to be quite acrimonious with Sita and some MLAs vehemently opposing the move to install Kalpana Soren as the CM.
Sita Soren reportedly said that Kalpana has no claims to the post and she (Sita) should be made the CM since she is a three-time MLA and is the widow of Durga Soren who fought for Jharkhand statehood.
Sita was supported by some senior JMM MLAs. Later, even some Congress leaders counselled Hemant Soren to abandon his plans to make his wife the CM since that would give the BJP more ammunition and hurl the parivarvaad (dynastic rule) charge at the Sorens.
That is why Champai Soren, a loyalist of JMM founder-patriarch Shibu Soren, was chosen to replace Hemant. Champai Soren is a veteran legislator and has held some important portfolios in successive governments.
Why The Uncertainty Now
The JMM-led alliance wants to parade its MLAs before the Governor to prove that a majority of legislators support Champai Soren.
If the Governor refuses to entertain the planned parading of the MLAs in the Raj Bhawan, the ruling alliance will submit letters from all its MLAs pledging support to Champai Soren as the CM.
What the ruling alliance fears is that the Governor may ask it (the alliance) to undergo a floor test in the assembly.
At present, the ruling alliance enjoys the support of 48 MLAs (one seat, Gandey, fell vacant after its MLA resigned last year end). The BJP-led NDA has 30 MLAs. There are two Independents in the assembly.
BJP leaders told Swarajya that a few Congress and JMM legislators are in touch with the saffron party and will abstain from voting in the event of a floor test.
Such abstentions can result in the ruling JMM-led alliance failing a floor test.
Or, the assembly session convened to conduct the floor test may get disrupted by MLAs, leading to the Governor recommending President’s Rule. Assembly elections are slated for later this year.
A spell of President’s Rule just before the Lok Sabha elections will deal another major blow to the opposition INDI Alliance.
BJP leaders said that many JMM and Congress MLAs can see the writing on the wall.
“These MLAs know that Modiji will return to power with a bigger majority and the days of the JMM-led alliance in the state are numbered. They are well aware that anti-incumbency against the ruling alliance in the state has peaked due to the scams and misdeeds of Hemant Soren and his ministers. They want to brush off the taint of being part of this corrupt government that has done nothing for Jharkhand these past five years and so they’ve reached out to us,” a senior BJP leader, who was a cabinet minister in the last Raghubar Das government, told Swarajya.
Uncertainty has gripped Jharkhand and all eyes are now on Governor Radhakrishnan.
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